Friday, 31 August 2007

Lincoln Cathedral

This morning produced the best conditions for sighting Lincoln Cathedral from Blacka Moor. Fine clear skies to the east and dark clouds overhead allow the silhouette to stand out.

It's easy to see why it was so important as a landmark for aircraft in the second world war. Originally the building was taller with a spire. I wonder if we would have been able to see that from 42 miles away.

Lovers of power stations can also enjoy the view and bore everyone by naming each one, from north to south.

Click on the picture for a better view.

Is Access Being Restricted?

I suspect that the letter writer in today's Telegraph has somewhat misunderstood the situation. This is not surprising. SWT will say that there has been no restriction on access to Blacka Moor. And to an extent they will be right. Our position is that the changes made by SWT have damaged the site in other ways. It is no longer the same free and easy wild place once farmification management is introduced. The presence of a grazing regime with fences and livestock makes an impact on the character of the place out of proportion with the conjectured gains, even if these were realised.

It would not be untypical of SWT and their allies to use this misunderstanding to attack us for 'misleading' people. They of course are professionals in the field of misrepresentation.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Livestock Diseases and Farmification

The opposition to cattle on Blacka Moor began in 2001, the year of the big Foot and Mouth outbreak. The countryside was closed down, appalling scenes of livestock slaughter and pyres of carcasses sent evil smoke all over the country. In Sheffield like much of the countryside you couldn't use any footpaths for ages. Even the large area of Blacka Moor with no livestock could not be used by walkers - because, according to the Public Rights of Way office sometimes sheep got out from the pasture land!!

Once you bring farming practices to an area of land it changes it for ever. Partly it's the fences (barbed wire!!!), partly the animals themselves but more even than those it's the priorities. These immediately become industrial priorities and people and nature itself are well behind in the consideration. Some innocence is lost.

Now we have the threat of Blue Tongue, now in Holland, spread by midges from warmer climes and much more likely with climate change. The midges prefer cattle but will attack sheep if no cows are present. The movement controls and exclusion zones are more serious than with F&M.

Conservationists like SWT and English Nature quite like exclusions and closing down of footpaths although they are getting more careful about admitting it. Sheffield's Ecology Officer once enthused in my presence about the closing down of Stanage Edge in 2001 because the quietness allowed another pair of ring ouzels to nest undisturbed.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Oh, The Berries of Blacka

Blacka could do with its own Robert Burns to sing the praises of the wild fruit on offer for all who relish the extra taste that cannot be found in cultivated varieties in the supermarket.

We know that some fruit pickers are not coming up onto the site because of cows but the small number on site this year (God knows what it will be like next year) mean you're unlikey to come across them if you keep to the open areas.


Blacka Blogger has made it clear that, despite his great affection for SWT, he is no lover of these signs. But he draws the line at vandalism. The person who has been practising his sawing technique here gets no support from this blog. Putting up one or two notices of one's own may be one thing but wilful damage is another.

Yes, it would be better if SWT were to take the things down themselves, ....and yes, SWT have disgracefully already removed (and stolen) excellent notice boards installed by Friends of Blacka Moor .....and yes, some of the other things done on the site by SWT could legitimately be described as vandalism..... but damage is damage and it's not right, whoever does it.

What is more such action puts ammunition in the hands of small-minded people with a sanctimonious streak who wish to justify unacceptable and draconian action. But Blacka Blogger is naming no names.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Thistle Down

Thistle Hill lived up to its (new) name this bank holiday, filling the air with floating seeds each supended inside its ingenious flying machine. Not all escaped to colonise far territory. Gorse trapped some just a few yards from take-off.


Is this there a finer wild flower than yarrow? Its form is elegant, a lovely flowerhead, delicate foliage, it is common but not invasive, it has a good name, some useful herbal properties and a host of fascinating folklore associations.

Monday, 27 August 2007

On-Site Worker or Central Team?

Until the 1970s there was a man, sometimes two, permanently assigned to Blacka Moor. He had a small hut for his tools, the ruins of which can still be seen from the path along the northern extremity, between the boundary wall and the new barbed wire amenity feature(joke intended).

His job was to maintain all aspects of the site, paths, bridleways, walls etc, and also to cut back birch spreading onto the heather. His job was axed, presumably in an economy drive. The theory was that it was more efficient to have centrally based teams who would come out from headquarters to deal with maintenance issues as and when necessary. This theory doubtless could be shown to save money and I'm sure the person whose idea it was made sure the figures fitted to prove just that. But in other ways it was disastrous.

Those who promote the central team idea of maintenance just don't get the point of on-site workers because the sites themselves matter less to them than the bottom line. This is also the problem with advocates of 'sustainability' who similarly occupy desks in offices, just venturing out occasionally to get evidence for a new report - and then they make sure they find the evidence that fits.

Here's a simple example. Bridleways on Blacka are often steep and so prone to fast water causing erosion. It's not easy (maybe not possible) to tell exactly what will work to divert the water from sudden downpours in specific locations. The obvious thing to do is try something and see how it goes - on a small scale. This is how a small landowner does a job. No major investment of time and effort, just ongoing work and careful observation. An on-site worker is ideally placed to do this. A team is plagued with desk manager problems from the outset. Scheduled for this area one week and that for another, it may be a month or two before they get round to a place. Then when they come they do too much, trying to take advantage of the time they have. There is no trial and error and often what is done proves not to work anyway. So much more time is spent to no effect at all.

The blog last month praised some work done by SWT in improvising a drainage channel for running water on the main bridleway (Canons' Path). It needed to be left to see how well it worked. If it was useless then so be it, try something else. If it worked then add some more at other suitable places. But instead of waiting to see, they had the people on the site and went ahead and did lots more. It's easy to see how this happens. The man in charge has got people to manage and wants to ensure they are busy, so they can just as easily be getting on with something appropriate or inappropriate. The first priority is that they should be working. None of this applies to the on site worker who, alongside these advantages, has chance to develop an attachment with the place and a sense of personal pride.

This one may work, some others are unlikely to. Best to go slow and wait and see.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Biodiversity Control Freaks

Those who espouse the cause of biodiversity above all else cannot at the same time be advocates of wildness. So a wildlife trust which plans to tame and control the landscape is a terminological absurdity. It may be laudable to protect species and even certain habitats, but to apply the principle uncritically renders you a control freak. There has to be a strong presumption that wildlife thrives on wildness.

The recently distributed paper from SWT with "Aims and objectives for biodiversity aspects (habitat and species) for Blacka Moor management plan 2007 to 2011" is a depressing read. Hardly a section of the site is allowed to be left to nature. More aptly we should call them a Tamelife Trust.

A genuinely wild garden created by nature with minimal intervention - a key part of the vision that was an outcome of the Icarus Process

Blacka Moor Family

Deer seen this morning confirm that the herd is becoming more established. Hinds and one young were seen in the tall bracken, using it as a cover. They then moved off across the heather towards the woods near the road.

Later observations suggest that the three red deer seen were a calf a doe and a male with one antler - henceforth to be thought of as a "unicorn"!!!!

Saturday, 25 August 2007


.......this morning, if it was needed, to reinforce the view in the letter in yesterday's Sheffield Telegraph. A certain B. Ovine complained that SWT were telling people to keep off this path while at the same time encouraging SWT's own bovine pets to trample and erode it.


Quite different this morning. Yesterday's skies were more of a separate world. Today's are closely wedded to the landscape.

Friday, 24 August 2007

Look No Spots

Even the much reviled bracken can have its beauty. With no help from skin treatments and beauty preparations bracken on Blacka produces no spores. A good thing too. If spores did appear they would not be good for you. The dust in the air at the moment is from heather pollen.

Buckler fern is a much more elegant fern than bracken and not nearly so invasive. But its spotty fronds show that it could still learn some techniques in beauty treatment from its coarser cousin.

Why Get Up In The Morning?

One reason is to see some of the best skies. This one was over Blacka at 7.10 am. And blessedly free from vapour trails.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Press Releases and How Much Do You Believe?

In The Sheffield Star on 19th June there was an item based on a press release from SWT. In it is this quote:

Following a lengthy process of consultation, plus the commissioning of a grazing impact assessment, the conclusion is that this is the most sustainable way of conserving the heathland and improving conditions for
wildlife, which has been tried and tested throughout the UK.

People who don't read carefully might be left with the impression that it says:

The conclusion of a lengthy process of consultation was ...........etc etc.
This of course is what we are meant to think. But we would be wrong. It carefully and deviously does not say that.

"The conclusion is...." doesn't say whose conclusion. Consider the mindset of those who would go to such lengths to leave such a false impression.

Blacka Blogger's position is clear. He doesn't believe these people one bit, not a single word they say. In fact not even the spaces between the words. To go further, anything he's believed all his life, unquestioningly.....if he heard them saying it, he would cease believing it on the instant.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Farm Stuff

Those people who love to come across bits of farm stuff everwhere they walk should hasten to this spot. The aluminium gates have only been there for two months and some time in the next year may be removed.

It makes you wonder why they bothered with wooden gates in the first place.

Wilder Britain

Interesting article in The Observer by Robert Macfarlane (doesn't seem to be in the online edition).

The Dutch are way ahead of this country in re-wilding, allocating 17% of a smaller country to an imaginative project. Here in Britain the powers that be are very reluctant to go beyond the farmed and fenced approach to all our countryside, more's the pity. But there are signs that in some areas people are beginning to understand a more imaginative approach (advocated by Friends of Blacka Moor and others). Ennerdale in the Lake District has been set aside for a re-wilding project and as the article says, part of the excitement is in not knowing for sure how it will look in 20 years or 50 years time.

Pity the countryside management people in the Sheffield and Peak District region cannot match this level of imagination.

Once Thriving

Back in May the small whitebeam looked as if it had a good chance of developing into a fair sized tree. Many hopes are dashed and sadly its prospects no longer look so good.

The cows have spent more time in this area than in some others.

Fighting it Out

Start of the week and the weather seems to be trying to reach a decision. Two different plans are in conflict. As the sun temporarily gains a hold an area of moister air rises from the woods.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Synthetic and Natural

Treeless Burbage with the merest flush of purple on the heather-a managed moorland.

The supposed reason for the huge area of upland around Blacka being managed in the way it is, refers to its status as a SSSI and a European Special Protection Area and a Special Area of Conservation. All this is enough to daunt the mere mortal who wants to enjoy the remoteness, the fresh air and what wildlife comes along. And that's what happens: We get ‘daunted’, just what they want. Not for us to ask questions and get out of our depth in all this regulation and top down judgement. After all, we assume, the ‘powers that be’ must know their stuff. Who are we to query or even challenge? The ‘experts’ must know best.

The more the entrenched bureaucracies pile on these designations the more disempowered become the local people who live nearby and use the areas. But the gist of it all is the apparent need to protect a ‘habitat’ that is scarce, the man-made heathland found on the high moors of northern parts characterised by treeless bleakness and managed for grouse shooting by burning and sheep grazing. This is the home of a few species of birds, several of whom adapted to it after previously living in the woodland before men changed the landscape. So it’s a largely synthetic landscape, not wild or natural at all. We have to be made to understand that managing it provides people with employment usually subsidised by public money of one kind or another. Those who inhabit the large and impenetrable bureaucracies are also beneficiaries of this system.

Vibrant purple heather on Blacka where the land has been left largely 'unmanaged' for 70 years.

The important thing to remember is that we must on no account allow this land to become ‘natural’. It must be controlled or there will be dreadful consequences. God, if that were to happen the next thing would be people eating real food and home grown vegetables instead of the man made and processed meals specially prepared for them. Or they’ll be getting rid of their TVs and making their own entertainment! Or leaving their cars at home and learning how to walk!

Reserve Advisory Group

The council wanted the RAG set up in response to concerns that the disposal of prime council amenity land to an outside organisation was a new venture. The council would have preferred not to do it – i.e. it would have been preferable if the council had been able to afford to manage the land itself. The RAG was seen as a safeguard against the lessee doing unacceptable things with the disposed land. So the RAG was a condition of SWT getting the site on a lease.

The exact responsibility of the RAG has never been satisfactorily defined as far as I know. Was it supposed to be a committee that made decisions or simply an imprecise group making recommendations that had no official standing? The answer seems to have been that if people in the RAG chose to agree with SWT then it was presented as if it had a certain authority but if they did not agree with SWT then it had none and could therefore be discounted. In other words some kind of hybrid - part focus group and part rubber stamp.

The usefulness of the RAG for SWT was the part it played in getting grants. SWT lives by grants and needs a supply of public money to be able to operate. It’s a bonus card to be played in any grants application these days to be able to show support for your plans from the local community.

This makes it doubly awkward for SWT to have to admit that despite all sorts of manoeuvres there remains strong local opposition to much of their policy. This leaves them having to invoke distant faceless bureaucracies like Natural England and European Directorates to justify what they do. Definitely not in the original script.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Looking More Like A Farm

This part of Blacka is now being made to conform to the plan. It's looking (and certainly smelling) more like a typical farm each day.

Everything plays its part, gates fences, tractor activity, mucky paths and plenty of this:

A Compromised View

What should be a splendid view is made less so by two blights. One is the power line striding remorselessly across the heather. Which people I wonder have this excresence on their consciences?

The other, more noticeable when you're there than in the picture, is the firebreak. It creates an ugly and an inappropriate rectangle in the middle of the view. I fail to see the point of this. If fire comes then it will be very sad of course but 1) I can't believe that much difference will be made by this, and 2) fire is part of nature and will lead to a different kind of renewal in time.

The firebreak below, made by a cutter pulled by a tractor, had denuded the rectangle of heather and what has come up afterwards is a tremendous quantity of birch, leading to more decisions being needed about how to manage. It should have been left alone.

Notes From An Alien World

Large areas on the top of Wimble Holme Hill and around Moss Road are like a lunar landscape and have,I'm sure, been used in science fiction films. To me it's about as desolate and unappealing as a post industrial scene. I'm reminded of some of the areas around coal mines I used to see as child when visiting relatives in the Black Country.

Moss Road has been scarred by individuals who can only experience the countryside from a vehicle and only enjoy it when destroying it.

The picture below should be framed and on the desk of every officer dealing with countryside management as a reminder of what can happen when the political will can't be mustered to do the obvious.

Friday, 17 August 2007

This Tastes Good

Since they were brought onto the site this was the first time I've seen cattle away from paths and grassy areas. They were eating bilberry with some gusto. Not just the berries of course, the whole shrub. Soon to come, no doubt, a large methane-charged belch.

Feels Like Autumn

This morning felt fresh, cool and far from summery. There was a heavy dew before the shower came. Brown patches on the bracken suggests its threat is already on the decline this year. Bilberry leaves have been red and mottled for some weeks.

The bracken above is on Blacka Moor. That below is just off Moss Road at a higher altitude. Bracken is a volatile plant spreading feverishly in the warmest part of the year and retreating in a cowardly way once we get a cool night.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

How Do We Get To This Point?

To suggest that any of us, or anybody at all, has said or done anything at any time at any of SWT's meetings over the last 6 years that could justify a reference to the police is so utterly barmy that one wonders about the sanity of those suggesting it. See current dispute with SWT.

But how do we get to this point? Is there something 'in the air' in present day administration that accounts for this? Is there something built into the way things are now done that allows managers and officers to believe that they can say anything they want? Could we call this a 'culture of disingenuity'? Do local authorities have anybody 'up there' in a position charged with maintaining some kind of semblance of integrity?

Maybe it all begins like this.

1 Start by talking positive. Don't even see the negative. Talk up your work.
2 Use every legitimate trick to sell your case, even if it's a poor case. (think how a good barrister can get off a guilty client, or a clever salesman can sell a duff product).
3 When you encounter opposition don't discuss the issues, merely repeat that "Everyone else agrees", even when they don't. Complain about negativity (this means having a different view).
4 Continue with the personalising agenda, make them (your opponents) the issue. Anything to avoid the objective scrutiny they want.
5 When they still won't go away increase the personal denigration behind the scenes and 'off the record'.
6 Final trick - character asssassination.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Is That So?

These days you have to tell a good story about what you've done even if you've made a complete mess of it.

"Most people have kindly avoided this path through the spring and summer; the grasses have grown from the edges and are helping to stabilise the peat" (see previous post)

Well this is what it looked like last year (photo taken August 9th 2006) before the barriers went up to stop people from using the path and before SWT put the cattle on - the ones who've kindly been eating the grass and churning up the path!!

And below is what it looks like this morning from almost exactly the same spot. The dark mark is sign that a heavy vehicle of some kind has passed over in the last two days. The story being told is that the current policy of barriers (along with cattle grazing) is successfully improving the vegetation and helping to bind the peat.

And what happened to the previous notice drawing attention to the heather seed being sown here by kiddies from the special school? Then it was heather, now it's grass.


Maybe some things will always seem a mystery.

New notice on barrier.

Vehicle tracks on same path from work done yesterday.

Same path a few weeks ago.

Same path after cattle moved away.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Cost Effective?

It cost at least £100,000 to make a cattle grazing enclosure on Blacka Moor.

I could be very far below in this and I would be grateful for a reliable statement. The trouble is I don't know where I would get it from. Certainly if it's less than that it couldn't be much less. The barbed wire alone cost upwards of £18,000 so if you add the other fencing and stone walling then that's the minimum I could accept.

All for 9 cows!! So they had better be doing the job we were told they would do. Most of the justification for cattle grazing focused on controlling bracken and birch scrub. So far each time I have seen the cattle they have been on the paths (created by humans) eating the grass at the side. Or they have been off the paths in areas of grass where there has been no heather or bracken. The large areas of birch saplings on the firebreaks I regularly walk past seem to have been untouched by them so far. And I've not once seen them inside a patch of bracken.

The cows above are in a grassy area well away from bracken and heather.

The other thing to note is that when they see you they start to move towards you, as they are doing here.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Piped Music in Parks?

We live in a crazy world. We now have piped music in Waterstones and M&S. and last time I went into the city library there was a radio playing.

The theory seems to be that people today don't feel comfortable unless they are surrounded by recorded music. As the music played is stuff I never want to listen to it just emphasises that I'm an outsider. But even when years ago Waterstones played piped music that I actually listen to myself by choice, I hated hearing it in a shop. I actually wrote a letter of complaint to Waterstones. There were three reasons: 1) I want to listen to my kind of music when I'm in the right frame of mind, 2) Why should other people who may dislike my music as much as I hate theirs be forced to listen? and 3) one day I reckoned someone will start to put on stuff I hate - and sure enough they're doing it now.

I wonder when they will start installing it in parks. I would lay a small bet that the Director of Parks and Woodland has already started looking into it. Within a year or two Graves Park, Whitely Woods and Blacka will have speakers wired through the woodland. So much better than all that annoying old fashioned bird song. And if that seems absurd, well once it seemed absurd to me that anyone could think of putting piped music in a library.

And the justification for this will be that it is "inclusive". Those people who can't exist without a constant racket of electric background noise are being 'excluded' from our public spaces!

God help us!

Only a Trickle

This was a raging torrent after the heavy rain. Now a couple of weeks of more summery weather have quitened things. Now heavy rain is forecast over the next few days so let's see how it changes.

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Blacka Moor Parfait

I have a lot to learn about presentation. The coulis obstinately refused to drizzle where I wanted it to. But the taste!

This is based on a recipe card in Waitrose's July selection free on a laminated card in store. But they use blackberry. The blackberries on the moor are not quite ready yet. So I substituted bilberries.

The recommended Australian dessert wine was excellent too

Saturday, 11 August 2007


You can approach consultation processes with local people in various ways.

1 One way, the unashamedly top down way, is to decide beforehand what you want to do and get a bit of help on some of the less important details from some local people.

2 Another way, the bottom up way, could be to ask people what they want and making some adjustments for different opinions do what they want. This is a rare phenomenon.

3 A clever way is to decide beforehand as in (1) and then persuade the punters to follow your ideas. Success here depends on having exclusive and effective control of the relevant (and some irrelevant) information and being sure to have some strategies in place in the unlikely event that they don't accept your view. (like saying the European Directorate will only sanction your plan and no others)

4 A more devious version of (3) is the one increasingly preferred these days. You've effectively made all the decisions yourself well in advance but you don't tell anyone. Using various now well known methods you conduct your consultation in such a way as to make it look as if the preferred outcomes all come from those consulted. The important thing in this is not to be seen to be sniggering behind your hand.

A Monster

This is likely to be the worst blight on the view from Blacka for some time, maybe even worse than the awful straight lines of the King Ecgbert School.